Castro's Totalitarian Magistracy

Saturday, February 6, 2010
"A constitution is the arrangement of magistracies in a state." -- Aristotle

In the graphics below, we have charted the word frequencies in the U.S. Constitution and the Castro regime's 1976 Constitution.

Aside from the important issue of legitimacy, as the Castro regime's Constitution was imposed upon (not adopted by) the Cuban people with the help of the Soviet Union in 1976, note three other telling contrasts:

1. The separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution, which is completely missing from the Castro regime's version;

2. The use of economic terms in the Castro regime's Constitution, which is a totalitarian command-economy (vs. the complete absence of economic terms in the U.S. Constitution, which is indicative of its free market); and,

3. The intensity of the word "prescribed" in the Castro regime's Constitution, as the dictatorship demands that all political, social and economic activity be mandated by the ruling elite.

Here's the U.S. Constitution:

Here's Castro's "magistracy":

Graphics by Wordle.

Chavez Cranks Up Repression Apparatus

Friday, February 5, 2010
VenEconomy has released a concerning analysis of Hugo Chavez's accelerated path towards the establishment of a Castro-style regime in Venezuela, repression and all:

The Key Man for the Final Assault

It looks as though Hugo Chávez is putting his men into position to mount a frontal assault and set up a despotic communist regime in Venezuela once and for all.

This Tuesday, February 2, during a ceremony to commemorate the 11 years Hugo Chávez has been in power, he announced that Cuba's minister of computer services and communications and president of its State Council and Council of Ministers, Ramiro Valdés, had arrived in the country. Allegedly, Valdés is here as the head of a Cuban technical commission that has come to cope with Venezuela's current electricity crisis.

Many analysts are astounded at the audacity and cynicism of this presidential announcement, given the grave consequences that bringing Cuba's third strong man to Venezuela will have.

From his curriculum, it is clear that Valdés knows little or nothing of anything except repression, persecution, and espionage of all kinds, which he has employed against the political dissidents on the oppressed island of Cuba. Valdés has been minister for home affairs several times, particularly at times when the Cuban prisons were full of political prisoners. He has also acted as chief of three corps of the Cuban army, and according to scholars who have studied Fidel Castro's dictatorship, he is the man used by the dictator for carrying out purges in the revolutionary ranks. Since 2006, he has been the minister of computer services and communications, where he has applied his know-how in the area of repression, and today is considered the person mainly responsible for censorship of the Internet in Cuba.

The question, then, is what task has Ramiro Valdés been assigned to carry out in Venezuela by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez?

Some analysts maintain that this Castro-Chávez combination cranks up repression and political persecution in Venezuela to unthinkable levels for Venezuelan democrats.

Why is Chávez revving up the repression apparatus precisely at this time? There are two hypotheses.

One says it is because he feels threatened and weak now that he is faced with hunger, unemployment, rampant inflation, crime, widespread corruption, and the serious electricity crisis for which he himself is largely responsible and that threatens to scuttle the revolutionary process. His strategy would seem to be to crush protests by sowing terror in the population. There is the possibility that this weapon will be used against dissidents as never before in Venezuela, not even in the times of the dictatorships of Juan Vicente Gómez and Pérez Jiménez.

The other hypothesis is that he perceives the opposition as being weak and divided and, on top of that, he feels he is in such a strong position that he considers that the time is now or never if he is to set up his communist dictatorship once and for all. Those who support this hypothesis argue that the feeble reaction in rejecting Valdés's presence in Venezuela by groups and individuals who speak out on behalf of the general public is proving that Chávez is right.

VenEconomy has been a leading provider of consultancy on financial, political and economic data in Venezuela since 1982.

Members Urge Pro-Democracy Support

Members of Congress Urge Obama Administration to Resume Aid to Pro-Democracy Movement in Cuba

Washington, DC – Congressmen Lincoln Diaz-Balart (FL), Mike Pence (IN), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Dan Burton (IN), Connie Mack (FL), Thaddeus McCotter (MI), Todd Tiahrt (KS), Connie Mack (FL) and Mario Diaz-Balart (FL) sent a letter today to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing concern about the current suspension of democracy assistance programs for Cuba’s independent civil society and the manner in which the Administration is handling the arrest of Alan Gross, the American citizen incarcerated in Havana two months ago.

Text of the letter to Secretary Clinton:

“We are greatly concerned about the manner in which the Administration is handling the arrest of Alan Gross, the American citizen who has been incarcerated in Cuba without charge since December 4th, and the consequences of his arrest on U.S. democracy assistance programs.

It appears that the Administration has opted to handle Mr. Gross’ arrest by trying to appease the Cuban dictatorship. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has gone so far as to discourage democracy assistance grantees from traveling to Cuba to provide aid to members of Cuba’s independent civil society and is surveying grantees about whether it is possible to provide assistance without having to travel to Cuba. Furthermore, USAID has yet to announce the solicitation for new grant proposals for the disbursement of FYs 2009 and 2010 democracy assistance funding, despite the requirement of the law. In fact, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been informed that the Administration is considering taking democracy assistance funding in a “new direction.”

Congress and previous Administrations have maintained a long-standing commitment to supporting Cuba’s internal pro-democracy movement and in recent years, pursuant to Congressional intent, the United States has significantly increased aid to the island’s growing independent civil society. On the island we have seen how diverse sectors of independent civil society have emerged to create new social, political and cultural spaces. The Cuban dictatorship is greatly threatened by the evident progress of the pro-democracy movement and is utilizing the arrest of Mr. Gross to force the United Sates to cease providing aid to Cuba’s independent civil society.

Just this week, we were informed that the State Department will proceed with the scheduled “migration talks” with the Cuban dictatorship on February 19th. It is unsettling for the State Department to be proceeding with “migration talks” and to have, in effect, suspended on-island assistance programs, while an American citizen continues to be under arrest in one of Castro's prisons and human rights activists on the island are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. This policy of acquiescing to the wishes of the Cuban dictatorship emboldens and encourages it to prolong Mr. Gross’ incarceration in the hopes of obtaining further concessions from the United States.

We urge you to suspend all talks with the Cuban dictatorship until Mr. Gross is freed, and that you demand that he be immediately released. We also respectfully request that you call on USAID to proceed swiftly with the solicitation process, as called for by U.S. law, so that all interested non-governmental organizations may submit grant requests to provide needed assistance to Cuba’s pro-democracy movement.

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to your prompt response.”

Nefariously Violating International Accords

Thursday, February 4, 2010
The Economist's Democracy in America has an eye-opening post on authoritarian regimes that sign international conventions on human rights and torture with the explicit intent of violating them.

Doesn't make sense?

Here's the nefarious rationale [of these regimes]:

The costly-signaling theory of torture

Last month Hillary Clinton gave a speech signaling that America was preparing to give increased priority to human rights in China, at least as far as internet use goes. Then this week America's ambassador to Vietnam held a press conference at which he said Hanoi's recent arrests of democracy activists could damage bilateral relations. Neither of these talks contained any suggestion that America is prepared to sanction China or Vietnam in support of internet freedom or democracy activists, and it is fairly clear that nothing America could reasonably do would have much effect on Chinese or Vietnamese behavior in these areas. Instead, American diplomats, under both the Obama and Bush administrations, have generally said they will pursue better human-rights protections in China and Vietnam through ongoing dialogues to persuade these countries to heed their own obligations under international treaties. Such dialogues and treaties may or may not accomplish much, but at least nobody could say they were making things worse.

Until now. Erik Voeten points us to an incredibly depressing recent paper by James Hollyer and Peter Rosendorff of New York University, who argue that authoritarian regimes ratify the Convention Against Torture as a way to signal to domestic opponents that not only do they plan to torture them, they're willing to violate their international treaty obligations to do it. The conclusion draws on earlier work showing that authoritarian regimes that sign the convention are either no less likely, or in fact more likely, to torture than those that don't.

"We argue that authoritarian states ratify human rights treaties explicitly because they do not intend to comply. And it is important to those signatories that all observers understand that they have no intention of complying at the time of accession. The logic, while counterintuitive, is straightforward: an elite facing threats from a domestic opposition can mitigate these threats by engaging in torture. If there is any additional cost to the elite of signing and then being found to torture, the act of signing the agreement signals to the opposition the strength of the elite's commitment to remaining in power...

This logic leads to two conclusions: First, more repressive regimes (regimes with elites more willing to use force to hold onto power) will sign and torture more frequently than less (or non-) repressive governments. Second, opposition political action falls in signatory states—yielding to reductions in the likelihood of regime collapse or transition. In the non-signatory states, opposition response actually rises, leading to more frequent regime failure."

This is a miserable thesis which is, I think, at least partially correct. It jibes with other habits of authoritarian regimes. For example, the four democracy activists sentenced to long prison terms in Vietnam last month (as we reported) were forced to make televised confessions in August that they had been planning to overthrow the government. The accusations, as any of the activists' wide circle of local and foreign friends and colleagues knew, were not just inaccurate; they were ludicrous. Why would a government torque up its accusations to the point where they were no longer plausible? Because forcing someone to admit to something he might have done does not send a strong signal of power. Forcing someone to confess to a crime that everyone knows he could not possibly have committed, on the other hand, is terrifying.

Similarly, a regime that tortures its opponents and refuses to sign the Convention Against Torture shows that it fears international opprobrium. A regime that tortures its opponents and blithely signs the Convention Against Torture anyway shows that it fears nothing. Messrs Hollyer and Rosendorff believe the intent is to show how dedicated the regime is to maintaining power, how much it will sacrifice. But there is another possible signal: the regime shows its opponents that it knows international pressure cannot disturb its grip on power in the slightest. And, in the cases of China and Vietnam, they're right.

Blackouts 101

Last November, Reuters reported that,

"Cuba has ordered all state enterprises to adopt "extreme measures" to cut energy usage through the end of the year in hopes of avoiding the dreaded blackouts that plagued the country following the 1991 collapse of its then-top ally, the Soviet Union.

In documents seen by Reuters, government officials have been warned that the island is facing a "critical" energy shortage that requires the closing of non-essential factories and workshops and the shutting down of air conditioners and refrigerators not needed to preserve food and medicine

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported,

"Venezuela, a country with vast reserves of oil and natural gas, as well as massive rushing waterways that cut through its immense rain forests, strangely finds itself teetering on the verge of an energy crisis.

Venezuela's seemingly endless resources have allowed the government for decades to just about give away its gasoline -- a full tank of gas in Caracas costs about the same as a can of soda.

But due in part to the assumption by many Venezuelans that energy in all its forms would always be cheap and plentiful, the country is suddenly starved for electrical power, and officials are warning of a possible calamity

And yesterday, the Associated Press reported,

"President Hugo Chavez has turned to his friends in Cuba for help in tackling Venezuela's energy crisis, drawing criticism Wednesday from opponents who say that the communist-led island is notorious for its own electricity woes.

The socialist leader announced that Cuban Vice President Ramiro Valdes had arrived on Tuesday to head a Cuban team advising Venezuela on its efforts to reduce energy consumption."

Ramiro Valdes, a former Cuban Minister of the Interior, who was widely feared for his brutality and ruthlessness, could surely teach Chavez many things about repression. But about energy?

Perhaps a refresher on Blackouts 101.

NOTE TO OPPONENTS OF U.S. POLICY: There is no U.S. embargo towards Venezuela. Therefore, next time you look to blame sanctions as the culpirt of Cuba's woes, remember Chavez's Venezuela.

What Does China Censor Online?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Click on this chart to see keywords and websites censored by China's regime.

Courtesy of Information is Beautiful.

Castro Resorts to Forced Labor

This week, the Castro regime announced that it will eliminate all support for the unemployed and that thousands of workers will be shifted to more productive jobs.

According to Salvador Valdes, head of Castro's only permitted labor union, the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC, in Spanish), workers will be reassigned "to productive jobs of greater necessity," like construction or agriculture.

Apparently, the Castro regime believes it has found a solution to its profound economic crisis.

Many "Cuba experts" had anticipated that -- by now -- the regime would have surely undertaken some economic liberalization measures.

Instead, it has simply resorted to forced labor.

U.S. Intelligence Assessment on Cuba

Yesterday, Admiral C. Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, presented the public "2010 Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community," which contained the following paragraph:

Cuban Economy Under Stress

Cuba has demonstrated few signs of wanting a closer relationship with the United States. Without subsidized Venezuela oil shipments of about 100,000 barrels per day, the severe economic situation would be even worse. President Raul Castro fears that rapid or significant economic change would undermine regime control and weaken the revolution, and his government shows no signs of easing his repression of political dissidents. Meanwhile illegal Cuban migration to the US, which averaged about 18,000 per year from 2005 to 2008, decreased by almost 50 percent in 2009 mainly because of the US economic slowdown and tightened security measures in Cuba. While we judge the chance of a sudden Cuban mass migration attempt is low, if the regime decides it cannot cope with rising public discontent over economic conditions, it could decide to permit more Cubans to leave the island.

On the 20th Anniversary of Mandela's Release

Cuban Political Prisoners Write to Nelson Mandela

HAVANA – A group of 33 Cuban political prisoners signed a letter to former South African President Nelson Mandela with their warmest regards on the upcoming 20th anniversary of his release from prison and denouncing the status of human rights in Cuba.

"Those of us signing this letter are Cuban political prisoners and prisoners of conscience who wish to send you our most sincere congratulations on the 20th year since your deserved and historic release from jail," the letter, which was delivered Tuesday to the South African Embassy and to the press in Havana, said.

"We celebrate as our own the 20th anniversary of regaining your freedom, and we are certain that you, with your big heart, will celebrate as yours next March 18, which marks the seventh year we have suffered in prison," it said.

The missive was written by Antonio Ramon Diaz, sentenced to 20 years in jail in 2003, one of the promoters of the Varela Project, which sought a referendum favoring an opening to democracy and spaces for social participation in Cuba.

"For dissenting peacefully from an unjust state of affairs, just as happened in the South Africa of Apartheid to you and the African National Congress, they constantly accuse us of defending interests and ideologies of foreign powers," the letter said.

Varela Project organizer Oswaldo Paya, who is not behind bars, stressed that the goal of the missive is to celebrate the two decades since Mandela was freed from jail and to denounce "the unjust imprisonment of dozens of Cuban defenders of human rights."

Paya also said that Diaz faced "difficulties of communication" in trying to show the text to the rest of the signers, whose names, sentences and prisons appear in detail.

This month South Africa celebrates two decades since the end of the segregationist regime, the freeing of Mandela and the legalization of anti-apartheid parties such as the currently ruling ANC.

Courtesy of EFE.

Independent Journalists Targeted by Castro

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
According to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders:

Dissident journalist arrested in Holguín as freedom to inform is stalled

Cuba's National Revolutionary Police (PNR) arrested Juan Carlos Reyes Ocaña, journalist from the small news agency Holguín Press, on 29 January then took him to a police barracks to face charges of "insult", "disobedience" and "illegal economic activity".

He was released the following day, but has started a hunger strike as he awaits his trial which could mean a prison sentence.

The regime continues to harass bloggers, deal out unfair detentions and ill-treat prisoners of opinion as it refuses to tolerate any news outside its control. Cautious improvements introduced since Raúl Castro assumed the presidency in February 2008 stall when it comes to human rights.

Havana has never ratified as it promised the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that includes free expression, which was signed at the official handover of power two years ago. Normalization of relations with Cuba promoted by the Spanish presidency of the European Union should not be at the price of skating over fundamental freedoms.

There have been no humanitarian gestures towards journalists arrested during the "black spring" of March 2003, including Ricardo González Alfonso, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Reporters Without Borders' correspondent and founder of the magazine De Cuba, has health problems, particularly lung disease, received treatment only on 26 January after a wait of one month. Despite his poor health, he is still being held in a cell in Combinado del Este prison in Havana.

Another "black spring" prisoner who was also sentenced to 20 years in prison, Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (APLO) news agency, recently spoke out against the ill-treatment and deprivation of food suffered by himself and his fellow prisoners. Doctor and contributor to dissident media, Darsi Ferrer, who has been in jail for six months, was handcuffed and beaten up in his cell.

Bloggers and Internet users are also targeted for repression. Two students were expelled last month for carrying out "unauthorized" journalistic work. Darío Alejandro Paulino Escobar was excluded from Havana University for creating a page on social networking site Facebook, containing the minutes of a meeting of the Young Communists' Union (UJC). The daughter of political prisoner, Félix Navarro, Saylí Navarro was expelled from Matanzas University for her work as a freelance journalist.

State security police on 6 November 2009 brutally assaulted bloggers Yoani Sánchez, creator of the Generación Y platform, and Orlando Luis Pardo, on the eve of a demonstration. A third blogger, Luis Felipe Rojas, was arrested twice in December and placed under house arrest.

Distracting U.S. With "Culture"

In 2009, the Obama Administration decided to expand cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba.

That's a legitimate policy option, which may sound harmless in concept.

However, it has serious implications, particularly at a time when the Castro regime is amidst an economic and political meltdown.

If the Castro regime were to have chosen, or even be inclined towards, a path of economic liberalization and political tolerance, then cultural exchanges could serve a bilateral purpose. Nonetheless, the Castro regime has chosen the backwards path of absolute control and increased repression.

As such, we are giving the Castro regime an opportunity to "distract the U.S. with culture."

The more the State Department is focused on unscrupulously granting visas to Cuban artists authorized by the regime ("authorized artists"), and the more the media -- and even the Cuban-American community -- is focused on Carlos Varela, Los Van-Van, La Charanga Habanera and Duo Buena Fe, the less they focus on the systemic repression against the island's political prisoners, pro-democracy leaders, human rights activists, independent journalists, independent labor leaders, bloggers and so forth.

In other words, the less they focus on Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Dr. Darsi Ferrer, Ariel Sigler Amaya, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," Yoani Sanchez, Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, Claudia Cadelo, Guillermo Farinas, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, Claudio Fuentes (a photographer who was just arrested last week) and the countless others, who vastly outnumber these authorized artists, yet only receive a fraction of the attention.

Furthermore, this cultural smoke-screen hurts artistic expression on the island as well -- for as the U.S. takes steps to allow greater numbers of authorized artists to perform in the U.S., the Castro regime is cracking down on critical artists on the island.

The fact remains that Cuba has an abundance of domestic talent that deserves to be heard, but the regime refuses to allow them to publicly perform, freely broadcast or record. They include well-known rockers like Porno Para Ricardo and rappers like Los Aldeanos.

And that's not to mention Cuban-American artists that are wildly popular on the island. If you somehow think the 2,700 tickets sold (out of the 5,000 seat capacity of the James L. Knight Center) for last weekend's Van Van concert in Miami is noteworthy, it's nothing compared to the 2.7 million plus that would eagerly gather from every corner of Cuba to see Willy Chirino or Gloria Estefan perform on the island.

Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen, for our current cultural policy is applied one-way -- Castro's authorized artists can perform in the U.S., but Cuban-American artists are strictly prohibited on the island.

Bottom line -- it's one thing to promote cultural ties between the U.S. and Cuba, but not at the cost of the real problem, which is the repressive relationship between the Castro regime and the Cuban people.

Let's be careful not to get silently absorbed into the "dog and pony" show of these authorized artists, while the entire spectrum of Cuban civil society -- including critical artists -- is being violently censored.

That's exactly the type of distraction the Castro regime wants to create here, so it can repress with impunity at home.

The Writing on the Wall

Monday, February 1, 2010
According to AFP:

Church warns Cuba is on verge of economic collapse

HAVANA, Cuba -- The Roman Catholic Church warned Sunday that Cuba is on the verge of an economic collapse that can only be prevented if President Raul Castro institutes sweeping economic and social reforms.

"The economic situation in Cuba has turned rather complicated with signs that it is close to free fall," the Havana Archdiocese said in the latest edition of its "Palabra Nueva" (New Word) magazine.

The Role of Sanctions

This weekend's Lunch with the Financial Times series featured an interview with FW de Clerk, who headed South Africa's last apartheid regime and received a joint Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela for forging an agreement that ended 350 years of white rule in the African sub-continent.

In explaining how he reached the decision to forge this agreement, which many of his colleagues felt ceded too much ground to Mandela and the African National Congress, de Klerk credited sanctions.

According to the FT:

"But had [de Klerk] not initially wanted to retain some form of a minority veto for the whites before being worn down by ANC negotiators? He dismisses out of hand the argument of some National Party insiders that he had originally hoped to share power with the ANC long into the future. Yes, he made concessions but, he says, that is "the essence of a true compromise". It was vital they struck a deal when they did. 'How would South Africa have looked today if we had not signed the agreements which were reached? We would not have exported one case of wine this year. [Wine is now one of South Africa's healthiest export sectors.] We would have been totally isolated. South Africa would have been on a downward slope towards calamity and catastrophe. So the new South Africa, warts and all, is a much better place.'"

In other words, the cost of isolation was becoming too great a burden and the promise of free commerce an irresistible temptation for South Africa's white minority to resist.

One can only hope that the white minority ruling Cuba will soon realize the human and economic bounty that awaits them -- and all Cubans -- this side of freedom.

Race and Class in Cuba

Sunday, January 31, 2010
Dr. Gayle McGarrity is a prominent sociocultural and medical anthropologist, who has written extensively on populations of mixed racial descent in Latin America and HIV/AIDS programs in South Africa.

She recently wrote a self-reflective and analytical article entitled "Race and Class in Cuba," which was published today by the Jamaica Observer.

Dr. McGarrity sets the premise:

"When I first returned to the United States in 1982, after living for a year and a half in Cuba, I was eager to share with my 'comrades' on the left the extent to which racism and class divisions were still a glaring reality in 'Revolutionary Cuba.'"

Then recalls:

"Young idealistic black militants from the United States, who fled racism in their homeland, looking for a more racially just society in Cuba, were treated in a hostile fashion by immigration and other government authorities on the island. These militants, many of whom were hijackers, were firmly immersed in ideas of socialism and world revolution, so it is not as if the government could, in all fairness, categorize them as counter-revolutionaries. However, when I lived in Cuba, and even today, anyone who does not agree with the regime´s policies is branded counter-revolutionary and a danger to national security. I met several of these black Americans while I was living in Cuba and was deeply disturbed by the way in which their spirits had been wounded and their idealism challenged by their treatment at the hands of the Cuban government."

And makes the following important observation:

"I have been motivated to write this article by the words of a black Cuban supporter of the Revolution, Esteban Morales . The latter, in a statement refuting what an influential group of 60 African-Americans were saying about the government's failure to protect the civil rights of blacks on the island, claimed that many blacks lived in inferior situations because they did not know how to transform their situation. "No saben como aprovecharse de las oportunidades que la Revolucion les ha dado" (They don't know how to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the Revolution). My position is that the blacks are perfectly able to take advantage of opportunities when they are presented to them. I know too many well-educated blacks, particularly those who studied languages and other careers connected to the tourist sector who have been unemployed for years. It is a well-known fact that the best jobs, in fact almost all of the jobs in the tourist sector, are reserved for whites. When I was visiting the island frequently in the 90s, the argument was that white Cubans had to limit the number of non-whites in the tourist sector because the Spaniards and other Europeans did not like to see them. I would argue quite the contrary, that it is white Cubans who do not want to see them."

To read in its entirety, click Part 1 and Part 2.